Less than 12 hours after making his dramatic resignation in Washington, Rudd was back at the lectern. This time, however, his speech sounded more like a campaign pitch.
Watch part of Kevin Rudd’s conference this morning here
The well-crafted piece was a return of the classic Rudd. He sought to position himself as a prime ministerial statesman speaking in a controlled and deliberate tone. More than that, modesty took a back seat as he painted himself as a great leader. Rudd revealed that many believed that he could “save” the Labor Party and avoid the seemingly inevitable election loss that would occur with Julia Gillard at the helm.
Rudd also sought to claim the high moral ground by expressing his disdain for the chorus line of ministers bagging his leadership style over the last couple of days. He said that he was “shocked and disappointed by the tone and content of the personal attacks” and that he did not believe “these sort of attacks have a place in our political life”. In a move to try to cement his position as a somewhat powerful, yet merciful, political operator, Rudd urged his own supporters “not to retaliate”.
An interesting feature about the Gillard-Rudd battle thus far has been how opinion polls have been driving the debate. Indeed, it was a series of poor opinion polls that contributed to Rudd losing the prime ministership in the first place. It is therefore somewhat ironic that Rudd, and his supporters, have used the same polls to undermine Gillard’s prime ministership.
Not only did Rudd spruik his leadership credentials, he also presented himself as a man of vision. Interestingly, Rudd chose to highlight policies that he would presumably pursue if he was to become prime minister again.
Rudd lamented the fact that the government had discontinued the halving of HECS fees for some university courses. He was also pushing for a greater emphasis on teaching Asian languages in Australian schools. He was presenting himself as a man of policy, not just personality.
Rudd was also eager to present his recent actions in a positive light. As he put it, the “question of the future of the leadership of our party and our country is not about personality”, rather it was “about trust and it’s also about policy and vision”. He ended the address with the famous “I’ve gotta zip” line.
Rudd’s speech would seem appealing to some backbenchers who have yet to commit to either camp Gillard or Rudd. With a leadership spill to occur next week, Rudd has given himself every chance to present a positive message to caucus.
No doubt part of Rudd’s allure for many in the government will be the “hope” he gives that the Labor Party may actually win the election with his leadership. But he faces an uphill battle and will be working his phone to melting point over the coming days to try to garner a credible level of support if he wishes to mount a challenge.